Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
Unique on many levels, woodpeckers are among my favorite birds for intense observation. Winter, spring, summer or fall, they never fail to entertain and educate.
Following a busy nesting season, most species begin fledging young by mid-June. Hairy woodpeckers and downy woodpeckers are among the most abundant residents of the woodlands I frequent. Young are out of the nest now, and parent birds are busy caring for their increasingly independent offspring.
During recent summers, I’ve spent an increasing amount of time sitting in the spring and summer woodlands observing [red-headed, red-bellied, pileated, hairy, and downy] woodpecker families. The daily lifestyles of all these species is amazing. Over time, I’ve witnessed some unique and repeated behavior among pairs of hairy and downy woodpeckers. Once the young are fledged from the nest, I see adult females only feeding female young; and adult males only feeding their red-capped male offspring.
At first, I thought it might just be a coincidence – a series of happenstance random sightings. But as the observations and photo collection continued to grow, I began to wonder. Going to the internet, I searched everything I could find. Although there was plenty of information regarding fledging behavior for the two species, I could find nothing on gender specific feeding of young. Next, I began to consult birding experts. So far, none of them have ever heard of this either.
So, what do you think? Are my observations merely random coincidences, or do hairy and downy woodpeckers routinely exhibit gender specific feeding of fledged young? I don’t have the answer. All I know is what I’ve seen. Attached are some examples from the past two summers.